Coniah Boyce-Clarke hasn’t even got his GCSE results and yet as a 16-year old standing at 6 ft 3 tall, he is one of the hottest goalkeeping prospects around.
The England Under 16 international, who only celebrated his 16th birthday in March, has attracted interest from Arsenal, PSG and Manchester United – the latter club monitoring his situation after being impressed with his display against them in between the sticks last season.
However, the youngster, who has been Reading since the age of eight, has a three-year contract on the table and looks set to continue his development with the Royals.
Starting out as a six-year old playing with his Mum every Saturday so he wasn’t “staying in all the time”, he soon ended up playing for his local team.
They had no designated goalkeeper and so everyone would take turns. But Boyce-Clarke took to it like a duck to water and by the age of eight, having only been a ‘keeper for around two months, he was snapped up by Reading.
Things happened extremely quickly for him and his rapid rise saw him make his Under 23’s debut as a 15-year old against Fulham, thrust into the deep end playing with and against players much older than him.
“At the time I was quite nervous and I wasn’t really expecting it,” Boyce-Clarke told SPORTbible.
“I hadn’t really trained with my teammates, I just went straight in as the other ‘keeper was injured midway through the game so when the manager told me I had to come on my heart dropped a little bit.
“I did think, ‘this is a big step, am I really ready for this?’ But I just kept my head up and carried on. I played really well and from that day I’ve played pretty constantly with the Under 23s.”
Playing several years above wasn’t really anything new for him, however. Having played cricket with his 22-year old brother from the age of three, he turned out for Gloucestershire Under 21’s in his early teens before switching his focus to football.
Plus, you wouldn’t know he’s considerably younger than everyone else on the pitch.
Already with a 6 ft 3 frame, he’s expected to grow a further two to three inches in the coming years and his family genes to thank for his height; his mum is 6 ft and brother 6 ft 5 – with his dad coming in at a massive 6 ft 7.
But height and size is only part of the package for Boyce-Clarke, who won the Golden Glove award at last year’s prestigious Val De Marne tournament and seen as someone with huge potential by coaches at Reading and England.
The modern goalkeeper has to be comfortable with their feet as well as their hands, hence why he admires both Marc Andre Ter Stegen and Ederson – two of the very best in the business.
But of course goalkeeping 101 is being vocal, commanding and having the mental strength to recover from an error – which Boyce-Clarke has grown to become equally as comfortable with.
He added: “In the 90’s it was ‘keepers having to do a lot of shot-stopping but now there’s a lot of focus on keeping possession. I feel a lot more comfortable with my feet now and I’ve seen a big difference.
“I don’t really have a big character about me but on the pitch I have a presence and become very vocal, defending my goal and telling other teammates what’s around them.
“When you make a mistake it’s just clearing your head really, not allowing it to affect you.”
He’s already well ahead of schedule and with how quickly he is progressing, it surely won’t be too long before he’s fast-tracked into the first-team picture.
“My target for next season is to be in and around the first-team, maybe on the bench for a few games and then just playing in big tournaments with the Under 23’s,” Boyce-Clarke revealed.
“I’m just concentrating on what I’m doing right now, not letting the hype get to me or anything so I don’t lose everything I’ve been working hard on for the last eight years. I’m just keeping my head down and trying to keep improving.”